Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Reading

A down side of higher ed is that it turns the kid who was the library nerd into the Netflix addict. This past year, reading meant Victorian and Romantic lit, critical articles, student essays, reading I’ve assigned my students, workshop submissions, lit mag submissions, assigned reading for workshops, books by visiting writers so I don’t look like a schmo at dinner, etc. Plus, I went to twenty or so readings.

You burn out.

Yes, it’s fantastic that reading is my “job” (although the critical articles take a bit of self-flagellation). This means I have found my vocation. But. When I’m not reading, then I’d rather catch up on the latest season of Mad Men.

Enter summer. Time to read whatever I want!

So what do I choose? Infinite Jest. Way to relax, Kelly. There was, finally, the finite, but there went July. The best advice I can give here is 1) Don’t do this alone. Pick one or two people you can count on and meet once a week 2) Read the introduction by Dave Eggers which explains why this 1,179 page beast is actually worth the investment 3) Have two bookmarks—one for the chapters and one for the endnotes 4) While it’s good to experience the book on its own terms, sans "spoilers," I took advantage of some Wikis to help me keep track. (For instance, there are over 200 characters).

As for my own review? While I experienced definite moments of infinite frustration, I emerged from the book changed. I interact and perceive the world differently from when I began. Is there something more we demand from a novel?

Next: A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan. The chapters morph in setting and time and point of view, and one chapter is written completely in a graphic representation of PowerPoint. Post DFW? No problem. My brain was in fighting shape. Finished in two days. The book has been criticized for reading like collected short stories as opposed to a “real” novel, but I felt the gel. Language, story, characters, plot turns. All there.

Next: House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home, memoir by Mark Richard, an author who, simply speaking, needs to be read. The POV is second person, which could be intensely annoying. Instead, it’s amazing. Here I’ll quote Padgett Powell, “If Mark Richard could not write, you could not read this. Since he can, you can’t not read it. It is unreal, and Mr. Richard has the wit to make it real.”

Also, thanks to fellow blogger/friend Trina, I have received the belated memo on Montana poetry prof Karen Volkman. Right now, though, I’m so obsessed with “Infernal,” I can’t move on to the rest of Crash’s Law, never mind progress onward to the other two books. Poetry for me seems to work like music. I tend to focus on a particular song and turn it inside out. This will take time.

Now I’m swamped in Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I have yet to tire of exclamation point! And that might be the summer. Because I’m also reading all about How to Promote Your Book in preparation for MY book. And I’m planning for my fall class, which means reading with my students in mind. Not the same. But I still might sneak in a murder mystery.


Travis Fortney said...

I too got swamped in Swamplandia! Or bogged down? I do not believe that book is very good. It is like the last Shteygart, in a way. I liked Goon Squad. I equate Mark Richard to Denis Johnson. You should read a book called West of Here by Jonathan Evison. It better than all of these except for Infinite Jest.

Travis Fortney said...

Oh, and the Volkman. The Volkman is better than any of it. She is a genius. Except Joanna Klink's last book was actually very, very good. I know they are rivals or whatever, but both great poets. Before Klink's last book I was firmly in the Volkman camp. You should check it out.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

Okay, Evison is on the list. And Klink. Right now I'm reading back issues of Best American Essays, etc. to prepare to teach. I'm turning comp into a nonfiction class.